Saturday, October 4, 2014

September 2014: The Sporting Scene

     Michigan Football: Michigan Football and the Athletic Department seem to be in dire straits these days. Students and alumni alike are clamoring for the firing of the head football coach Brady Hoke and the Athletic Director Dave Brandon. When Rich Rodriguez was the coach these same folks wanted him replaced with a "Michigan Man." Well, they got their wish. Brady Hoke was an assistant of Lloyd Carr from 1995 - 2001. Brandon, who came in a year before Hoke in 2010, is probably even more of a "Michigan Man" given that he played football for the late great Bo Schembechler from 1970 to 1974. Brandon was a backup quarterback who only an appearance in one game.
      Brandon runs the Athletic Department like he ran Domino's Pizza where he was CEO when Bain took them over. He brought his corporate style to the Athletic Department. He runs things in a no nonsense bold and determined style where performance is demanded and expected. In his first year, he fired Rich Rodriguez and hired Hoke who by all reports was not the first choice. It looked like exactly the right move as Hoke went 11-2 in his first season beating Ohio State and then going to the Sugar Bowl and beating Virginia Tech. Excellent. The faithful was delighted. We all thought that this new coach in Bo and Lloyd tradition was bringing us right back to glory. Everyone was psyched. The problem was the Hoke massed that impressive record with Rich Rod's guys which included the great Denard Robinson at quarterback. The fan base did not see that as the problem until maybe last year and for sure this season.
     Hoke's record deteriorated from 11-2 to 8-5 in 2012, 7-6 in 2013, and this year 2-3 so far. He has recruited well or supposedly well per the rankings. Either the recruiting was over rated or Hoke and his staff have not developed that talent into a team that meets the expectations of the fan base. The criticism is opposite that of the Rich Rod era. In every year of his coaching tenure at Michigan, Rodriguez had improved offenses. The continual improvement in offense was impressive and exciting. His issue was on the defensive side. His teams were not able to hold the opposition to fewer points than the substantial numbers the offense was posting. Hoke has the opposite problem. The defense has improved... a lot. The offenses of last season and this season are giving up too many turnovers that have turned into points that the defense is marginally responsible for.
      To top all of this off, Hoke blew it this past Saturday against Minnesota. Quarterback Shane Morris suffered a leg injury. He was clearly limping and he was left in the game. A few plays later, Morris took a vicious helmet to his chin hit and was clearly woozy. He was again left in the game. There has been massive criticism of Hoke for not putting the health and safety of his "kids" on the priority and requirement that is college football in 2014. He first claimed that he was not aware. By saying that, he dug a deeper hole for himself on many levels. As head coach, he is supposed to the CEO or general of his team. The devil is indeed in the details and when he blows something like this... well, everyone jumps to the conclusion that everything else is run in the same haphazard manner and thus it is clear why a team with class recruits is underperforming. It is not just about headphones (Hoke is the only major head coach who roams the sidelines without headphones), but it is most definitely about his management style.
     During the Notre Dame trouncing, I was tweeting and Facebooking about the differences between Brian Kelly and Brady Hoke on the sidelines. Kelly was animated and on fire. Hoke looked like he was not engaged in the game. Kelly was coaching his key players after both spectacular plays and mishaps. Hoke was not shown talking to his players at all and when he did, the conversations did not seem energizing and motivating but rather benign. Cool and calm works if you are John Wooden with his record. For Hoke, with his record, his sideline behavior looks more like deer in the headlights.
     Suffice it say, what many reporters, tweeters, bloggers, and Facebookers have already noted or wished: Hoke, as head coach of Michigan, is a dead man walking. He will lose his job unless by some miracle they run the table for the remainder of the season. The sentiment, at least on the fan and student side, extends to Brandon as well. Whether one or both go, this matter is clearly out of my hands. The new Michigan President Mark Schlissel has some tough decisions to make in this his third month in the position.
     Here is my fear. I do not want to get into the same coach musical chair cycle that both Michigan State and Notre Dame experienced before they settled on their current program defining coaches. Michigan could be headed in that direction if they replace Hoke and get another coach that does not deliver a string of 10 win seasons in short order.
     We are a spoiled lot, us Michigan fans. From the day Bo beat Ohio State in his first season, the expectation and pride has been very high. The Big House aura and record string of 100,000+ crowds, the overall winning percentage, the number of successive years going to bowl games, the record string of games not being shutout, the distinctive helmets, and so much more have given the fan base both pride and high expectations. It has been a much bumpier road of late. "Of late" either started when Ohio State hired Jim Tressel or Appalachian State upset us (some say the biggest upset in the history of college football).
     What will happen? With regards to the AD and head coach? I will have to wait and see how Schlissel and Brandon or just Schlissel alone handles this. I hope it is just in Schlissel's hand and I hope that he replaces Brandon and then he and new AD layout a strategic plan that the AD then carries out, the first action item of which is what to do about the head football coach. In the meantime, I do hope Michigan runs the table as I am still a big fan. What is the probability of that happening? Very low.
      Wrigley Field: I went to a Chicago Cubs game the evening of September 24th. They played their longtime rival, the St. Louis Cardinals, against whom they always play well. It was the last home game of the season and the weather was just perfect for any sport played outside. It was a pretty good baseball game that the Cubs won 3-1.
     I have not been at the opening day of any major league baseball team. Now,

I can say that I have been to a last game. This was the Cubs last home game of the 2014 season. This does not have the same coolness as being able to say I was at opening day. But, in this case, there was a coolness factor. Being at that game was something very special.
       It was the last game in the Old Wrigley Field. On September 25th, the Cubs are beginning a major renovation of Wrigley Field. It will be a four year project that will be done, for obvious reasons, in the off season. The project will cost half a billion dollars is being funded entirely by the Rickett family who are the Cubs’ owners. While the plan includes expanding concourses, vending, and restrooms to bring those spaces and offerings up to modern standards, the whole project is designed to keep preserve and maybe enhance what makes Wrigley Field so special. The plan is being called both a renovation and restoration. Both words describe what they intend to accomplish in terms of both renovation and restoration:

  • Wider concourses, more restrooms, and more food and drink vending are absolutely needed in this modern era. Currently the concourses floors are cement and the atmosphere is dingy to drab. The renderings of what is planned look like a brand what can be called both retro with ironwork reminiscent of the 1930s with modern amenities. 
  • Any plan for a modern baseball field has to include state of the art corporate suites with all the appropriate luxuries that will bring in premium revenues. While doing this, the seating capacity of the stadium. 
  • The iconic parts of the stadium will be restored and look the same. The ivy covered walls will remain. The historic marquee will remain. It seems that even the classic old time scoreboard will be preserved though a Jumbotron will be added in left field. 
  • The press box will be expanded and modernized to state of the art telecommunications standards.
  • Many of the changes will not be noticeable to the fans. The current stadium is old and is common with old structures the cement and structural steel need to be replaced. The plan calls this in terms of replacing the wooden roof with a more modern structure. The cement in the stands will be removed and new seating platforms installed. The water pipes into the stadium and the plumbing within are all being replaced. The electrical in the stadium will be replaced.
     The Cubs fans are truly a die-hard lot. They are very reminiscent of the Boston Red Sox fans before their recent post season successes. Both teams have been part of major league baseball for well over a century and both teams had early success followed by long agonizing droughts throughout which their fans were incredibly loyal. My Grandmother Gavoor was one of those Bosox fans. She would watch every game and would refer to them as the “Gosh darn Red Sox” when they lost. For a comprehensive history of the Red Sox nation before the Red Sox World Series wins in this new century check out Fenway Park Living Museum. There was also a great soliloquy in the Farrelly Brothers movie Fever Pitch in which Jimmy Fallon explains the whole curse of the
With my good friend and Cardinals
fan extraordinaire Claude Ohanesian

     The Cubs have been in ten World Series. They have only won twice: 1907 and 1908 hardly the modern era. Their last appearance was in 1945. In 2003, the Cubs did make it to the NL Championship but did not advance to the World Series.

Back in 1945, a man by the name of William "Billy Goat" Sianis attempted to bring a goat named, Murphy, to Wrigley Field during Game 4 of the World Series. Sianis was the owner of the "Billy Goat Tavern" and was a diehard Cubs fan.

Since there was no signs or warnings that barred animals from the park, Sianis figured he would have no problem bringing Murphy to the park. Ready with one ticket for himself and one ticket for Murphy, Sianis and his pet watched the game until late in the game when they were asked to leave. Orders came directly from Cubs owner, P.K. Wrigley, asking that both Sianis and his pet goat be ushered out of the park. The reason given was "because the goat stinks". As a disgusted Sianis left, he was heard saying "The Cubs ain't gonna win no more. The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field."

After the Cubs lost the Series to the Tigers in seven games, Sianis sent a telegram to Wrigley that said "Who Stinks Now?" Diehard Cubs fans believe the curse still exists today.
     While the Billy Goat curse is well known, it is not the only curse. In fact, there is entire website dedicated to Chicago Cubs Curses. There are five of them which may be independent or actually related to the Billy Goat Curse (cue the eerie music soundtrack). The most recent incident was in the 2003 playoff game against the Marlins when:
Steve Bartman, a local 26-year old global human resources worker from the Northern suburbs of Chicago, became the latest "goat" when he attempted to catch a foul ball near the left field wall. As Cubs left fielder, Moises Alou, attempted to catch the same ball, Bartman, and others could be seen deflecting the ball. What could have been a momentum killer for the Marlins eventually was a major blame to the collapse of the Cubs after being one game away from the World Series.
     One of the weirdest Cub curses was about the 1986 World Series between the Red Sox and Mets in which Boston’s first Bill Buckner flubbed a routine ground ball that went between his legs for a hit. The Mets won that game forcing a game seven which the Mets also won. Until they won their World Series earlier in this century, that play is prime proof of the curse of the Bambino to the Red Sox faithful. What does this have to do with the Cubs? 
A picture taken over 20 years ago showing Buckner walking off the field after committing the error revealed something that has been undiscovered until recently. As Buckner walked off the field, he removed his glove, exposing a worn Chicago Cubs batting glove with the Cubs logo on the back. Buckner had previously played for the Cubs before joining the Red Sox and was apparently wearing the batting glove for luck. Instead it acts as one more piece of evidence as to why the Cubs Curse exists.
     Buckner was wearing a Red Sox uniform and a Cubs batting glove. He was double cursed.

     To see and learn more of what is planned go to The Wrigly Field Plan Site. It is a most informative website.

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